By Colin Kaye
Morning, Noon and Night
Edvard Grieg in 1888.
the old Bugs Bunny cartoons shows the illustrious rabbit attempting to
conduct an orchestra, but thwarted in his attempt largely by a bothersome
fly. The music was the overture Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna
by Franz von Suppé. He was a successful Austrian composer of light operas
whose parents, perhaps in a moment of sheer madness, had christened him
Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo Cavaliere di Suppé-Demelli. Understandably,
he abbreviated this elephantine name at the earliest opportunity. Over the
years his operas and operettas have fallen into obscurity, but his colourful
overtures seem to have survived.
many pieces of classical music that were evidently inspired by a particular
time of day, and having nothing much to do recently I started to make a list
of them. As it turned out, most of the works I could recall were actually
about evening or night rather than the daytime. There’s that lovely piece
by Delius, Summer Night on the River and the sumptuously harmonic
Verklärte Nacht by Schoenberg. Then there’s Khachaturian’s nocturne
from the Masquerade Suite and of course all those other nocturnes by
Chopin, Fauré, Liszt and the Irish composer John Field who actually invented
well-known nocturnal pieces are Manuel de Falla’s brilliant Nights in the
Gardens of Spain and Mussorgsky’s Night on the Bare Mountain,
known by alternative English titles depending on how the Russian is
probably think of others, but I’ve chosen three pieces on the “times of day”
theme, one of which is extremely well-known, another a little bit less so
and a third which is hardly known in Europe, let alone Asia.
Edvard Grieg (1843-1907): Morning Mood
from Peer Gynt Suite No 1. Limburg Symphony Orchestra cond. Otto Tausk
(Duration 03:54, Video 720p HD)
Grieg provided the incidental music to Henrik Ibsen’s 1867 play of the same
name, which describes the adventures and dubious exploits during the life of
Peer Gynt. About twenty years later Grieg extracted various sections of the
music to create two suites each of four movements, though why he waited so
long is anyone’s guess. Morning Mood is the first movement of the
first suite, and many people assume that it depicts Peer Gynt gazing
heroically over some Nordic landscape. In fact, it comes from the fourth
act of the play, when the sun rises to reveal our eponymous hero up a tree
in Morocco, protecting himself from a horde of grunting apes. The theme has
acquired international fame through its use in films and television
Claude Debussy (1862-1918): Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune.
Orchestra Dell'accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia cond. Leonard Bernstein (Duration: 11:59, Video: 480p)
evocative symphonic poem was written in 1894 and was inspired by a poem of
the same name by the Parisian poet and critic Stéphane Mallarmé. It was one
of the most significant musical works of its time, consisting of a complex
organization of musical cells and motifs. It’s not actually descriptive in
the usual sense of the word but it uses rich whole-tone harmonies, daring
orchestration and to contemporary audiences must have sounded very modern
Bernstein wrote that the work “stretched the limits of tonality” and in so
doing, set the harmonic stage for the atonal music of the century to come.
In this film, Bernstein conducts the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di
Santa Cecilia, one of the best-known orchestras in Italy.
Revueltas Sánchez (1899-1940) Noche de Encantamiento. Orchestre
de Paris cond. Kristjan Järvi (Duration: 13:15, Video: 720p HD)
piece could hardly be more different from Grieg’s gentle evocation of
sunrise. Revueltas is considered one of the most significant composers of
twentieth-century Mexican music. He used dissonance freely and his works
have a rhythmic vitality and raw energy. He once wrote, “My rhythms are
booming, dynamic, tactile and visual”.
Revueltas wrote chamber music, songs and a number of other works, his
best-known composition is the score for the 1939 Mexican film La Noche de
los Mayas (“The Night of the Mayas”). Like Grieg, Revueltas decided to
create an orchestral suite from the dramatic music but he died before even
starting it. The donkey work was taken up by his younger compatriot José
Ives Limantour and the reworking of the original film score preserves the
composer’s native Mexican rhythms. It also calls for a selection of native
Mexican instruments including the caracol, guiro, huehuetl, sonajas,
tumbadora and the tumkul.
is symphonic in design and cast in four movements with this one, “Night of
Enchantment” being the last. You’ll need a good sound system or high
quality headphones to fully appreciate this thrilling and relentlessly
percussive music. Needless to say, it’s real blood-and-guts stuff and not
for wimps or those of a delicate disposition.
I suppose when most
people think of Polish classical music, they think of Chopin or polonaises.
The polonaise of course is a dance – one of the country’s five national
dances, though it’s actually the French word for “Polish”.
Apart from Chopin, you
might be hard-pressed to think of any other nineteenth century Polish
composers. Henryk Wieniawski springs to mind, because he wrote many works
for violin and his Second Violin Concerto remains popular. Then there was
Moszkowski, who was a big name in the late nineteenth century, best known
for his piano music. We mustn’t forget Paderewski either, who was a
world-class pianist in his time and had the distinction of being Poland’s
Prime Minister for just ten months. He achieved sufficient musical fame to
have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles.
But this brings us
well into the twentieth century, when Poland produced a crop of composers
who have achieved international recognition. In 1992, a recording of the
Symphony of Sorrowful Songs by Henryk Górecki (goo-RETS-kee)
topped the classical charts in Britain and the United States selling more
than a million copies.
The most influential
twentieth century Polish composers include Karol Szymanowski, Leopold
Godowsky, Andrzej Panufnik, Witold Lutosławski and Krzysztof Penderecki.
The last name (pronounced, usually with difficulty as KZHISH-toff
pen-der-ETS-kee) may be more familiar because his highly personal and
sometimes downright scary music was used in several movies, notably The
Exorcist (1973) and The Shining (1980). One of his most
influential works is the musically-challenging Threnody for the Victims
of Hiroshima, which was used in the movie Children of Men (2006).
The two works this
week are in total contrast, the first stylistically rooted in the closing
years of the nineteenth century, the second firmly in the twentieth.
They’re as different as chalk and slupski chłopczyk.
(1882–1937): Etude in B flat minor Op. 4, No. 3.
Moniuszko School of
Music Symphony Orchestra, cond. Andrzej Kucybala (Duration 06:12, Video 720p
Etudes, the French
name for studies, were usually written for piano and emerged during the
early nineteenth century as the instrument was growing popularity. They
were originally short exercises intended to develop a particular
instrumental technique. Most pianists have been obliged to struggle through
the studies of Clementi and Czerny but two composers, Chopin in Poland and
Liszt in Hungary raised the étude to a high art form. Szymanowski (shih-ma-NOFF-skee)
composed his four études for piano between 1900 and 1902 when he was still
influenced by German romantic music of the late nineteenth century.
He wrote a staggering
quantity of music including several concertos and four symphonies. After
hearing the third symphony, his younger compatriot, the composer Witold
Lutosławski remarked that he felt “quite dizzy for a number of weeks”. The
third étude is slow and lyrical and has become the most popular of the set.
It was performed by leading pianists of the time and brought the composer
considerable fame, especially after it was orchestrated by the Polish
composer and conductor Grzegorz Fitelberg. The piece has rich confident
harmonies and a lovely nostalgic melody which draws the music to a dramatic
climax (at 03:50) before the tension begins to subside towards its
reflective conclusion. You’ll probably notice some quite dissonant
harmonies towards the end; a hint perhaps of Szymanowski’s more mature
(1913-1994): Concerto for Orchestra.
Orchestra of Great Britain cond. Edward Gardner (Duration: 28:05, Video 720p
Witold Lutosławski (VEE-tolt
loo-to-SWAHF-skee) is considered one of the great voices of Polish
twentieth century music, although he was relatively unknown outside the
country until the 1960s. His early work shows the influence of Polish folk
music although his first symphony was banned during the Stalinist era on the
grounds that it was too “formalist”. This was a favourite term by the
censorship authorities of the day and referred to the half-baked political
notion that music should be simple and accessible to the masses.
Lutosławski used an
approachable, more tonal style for his popular Concerto for Orchestra
which dates from the early fifties. The work opens with a reminder of
Brahms’ First Symphony and there’s plenty of percussive pounding and
dissonance, but also moments of opulent harmony with tantalising fragments
of folk-song. It’s brilliantly scored for a huge orchestra with a large
percussion section as well as a celesta, a piano and three harps, though for
some reason this performance uses four.
By the end of the
1950s the state loosened its grip on artistic creativity and Lutoslawski was
free to explore more challenging approaches to composition. Towards the end
of his life, he was awarded the Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s highest
honour. And in case you’re still wondering, słupski chlopczyk is a
kind of Polish cheese. I didn’t make the name up. Honestly.
The Glinka monument in Teatralnaya Square, St.
Petersburg, Russia. (Photo: Alex Florstein)
Some years ago, when I
was involved in the gentle art of music education, I once became intensely
irritated on hearing a well-meaning but ill-informed teacher talking to her
class about “happy sounds” and “sad sounds”. She was trying to explain the
difference between the intervals of the major third and the minor third,
claiming that the first sounded happy and the second sounded sad. Of
course, all this is complete and total nonsense and with as much tact and
diplomacy as I could muster, I told her so. Now maybe you are not into this
technical stuff, but it’s very easy for me to prove my point by using a
piano. At least, it would have been if I had remembered to bring one with
It was unfortunate
that the teacher was feeding the children the hopelessly naïve idea that
music is either “happy” or “sad”. There are countless other shades of
meaning and emotion between and outside these simplistic notions. Some
music can be so full of radiant joy and elation that it makes your spirits
soar and you find yourself weeping. Now why is that, I wonder? Well, my
knowledge of psychology is such that I’d prefer to leave that for you to
ponder. You may recall that Hans Christian Andersen once wrote, “Where
words fail, music speaks”.
I mention all this
because the other day I found an article in which someone had listed
examples of “music that makes you happy” or some such inane title. Perhaps
this kind of thing is so subjective as to render such list-making rather
pointless. In any case, I’d guess that peoples’ reaction to a piece of
music is informed, consciously or otherwise by their frames of reference.
But let’s not get too technical, for it’s the weekend after all.
Even so, I can think
of many pieces that uplift the spirits and brighten the day. Perhaps they
even evoke a sense of merriment - for at least part of the time. Most
composers know that unrelenting jollity – or unrelenting melancholy for that
matter – can become wearisome. In Gustav Holst’s piece Jupiter, the
Bringer of Jollity the jovial mood eventually gives way to one of his
noblest melodies. Dvorák’s effervescent Carnival Overture, which was
also listed, includes a beautiful middle section of almost heart-breaking
nostalgia. And talking of overtures, here are three that might lift your
spirits too. They’re all somewhat similar in structure, with vivacious
opening themes contrasted with slower more reflective melodies.
Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857): Overture to Ruslan and
Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, cond. Valery Gergiev (Duration 04:33, Video
This is a sizzling
overture, which I first came across at the age of about fourteen. It’s
remarkable that the music sounds so modern for something written in 1840.
Glinka was the father of Russian classical music and although he was a
prolific composer, he’s known in the West for only a handful of works. He’s
highly regarded in Russia where three music conservatories are named after
Gergiev takes the overture at a fair old lick, revealing the competence of
this superb Russian orchestra. For some reason, he appears to be conducting
with the aid of a toothpick.
Dmitri Kabalevsky (1904-1987): Overture to Colas Breugnon.
New England Conservatory Philharmonia cond. Andrew Litton (Duration: 05:42,
Video: 1080p HD)
This was the first
piece I heard through a pair of stereo headphones when I was about
twenty-two. It sounded wonderful at the time and still sounds as fresh as
As a child, Kabalevsky
was deeply interested in the arts and was an accomplished pianist, also
dabbling in poetry and painting. He became a prolific composer of piano
music, much admired by Vladimir Horowitz. Like Glinka, little of his work
is known in the West with the exception perhaps of the Third Piano
Concerto. The three-act opera Colas Breugnon was written between
1936 and 1938 and based on a novel by Romain Rolland.
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990): Overture to Candide.
London Symphony Orchestra cond. Bernstein (Duration: 04:41, Video: 480p)
Perhaps best known for
his opera West Side Story, Bernstein was also an author, music
lecturer, and brilliant pianist. Music critic Donal Henahan, claimed that
Bernstein was “one of the most prodigiously talented and successful
musicians in American history.” His operetta Candide was first
performed in 1956 and based on the novella of the same name by Voltaire,
written almost exactly two hundred years earlier.
The overture is a
lively and engaging work with a catchy opening theme which gives way (at
01:21) to a passionate melody that recurs triumphantly later in the work.
The exciting coda which begins at 03.23 makes a satisfying conclusion to
this heart-warming overture. An added bonus is that when he’s conducting,
Bernstein is always entertaining to watch.
Vienna in the 1750s. (Bernardo Bellotto, 1758)
Right, let’s start
with a test. I’ll give you a list of composers and we’ll see how many names
you recognise. Here it is: Adalbert Gyrowetz, Johannes Matthias Sperger,
Dmitry Bortniansky, Leopold Kozeluch, Etienne Ozi, Justin Heinrich Knecht,
Artemy Vedel and Johann Georg Lickl. Ring any bells? Unless you have a
special interest in music of the late eighteenth century, their names are
possibly meaningless. But don’t feel inadequate, because few professional
musicians today have ever heard of them.
The composers in the
list were born between the years 1750 and 1770 and were therefore
contemporaries of Mozart. Wikipedia lists nearly two hundred other
composers who were born during the same twenty years but there were probably
They may seem an
obscure bunch today, but in their time they were celebrities in the musical
world. Take the curiously-named Adalbert Gyrowetz for example. He spent
much of his time travelling around Europe and wrote over thirty operas,
sixty string quartets, sixty symphonies and about forty piano trios. He was
born in the Czech city of Budìjovice, also known as Budweis and famous for
Budweiser Bier which has been brewed there since the thirteenth
century. Adalbert may well have had a few swigs of the amber nectar to
encourage his creative flow.
Paul Wranitzky (1756-1808): Oberon Overture.
New Dutch Academy, cond. Simon Murphy
(Duration: 05:26 Video: 720p)
You don’t hear much
about Wranitzky these days either. He was born in the same year as Mozart
and like Adalbert Gyrowetz, hailed from what is now the Czech Republic.
Like many other Bohemian musicians of the time, he moved to Vienna which was
then the most important cultural centre in Europe.
Wranitzky was a
composer and conductor and highly respected by Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven.
He was Beethoven’s favourite conductor and gave the premier of the first
symphony in 1800. He was a prolific composer too and churned out forty-four
symphonies, sixty or seventy string quartets and a couple of dozen operas
and ballets. This might seem a disproportionate amount of self-inflicted
hard labour, but there was an enormous demand for new music in Vienna and
other cities. Unlike today, there was little interest in music written by
long-dead composers. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the French
musicologist François-Joseph Fétis wrote, “The music of Wranitzky was in
fashion when it was new, because of his natural melodies and brilliant
style. I recall that in my youth, his works held up very well in comparison
with those of Haydn.”
Oberon was of course
the mythological King of the Fairies. Perhaps he still is. He was the
subject of several operas, most notably the one written by Weber in 1826.
This tuneful overture to Wranitzky’s opera is played on authentic historical
instruments by an excellent baroque orchestra based in The Hague.
Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754-1812): Concerto for Viola
Fabián Orozco (vla), Orquesta Sinfónica de Venezuela cond. Pablo Morales
(Duration: 20:20 Video: 480p)
Hoffmeister was born
two years before Mozart, and by the 1780s he’d become one of Vienna’s most
popular and highly respected composers. He wrote at least eight operas,
over fifty symphonies and a large number of concertos. He also established
one of Vienna’s first music publishing houses, and published not only his
own works but also those of many other major composers of the time,
including Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Clementi, Albrechtsberger and
Dittersdorf. These people were also among Hoffmeister’s personal friends
and in one letter Beethoven evidently addressed him as “my most beloved
Hoffmeister wrote a
great deal of music for the flute, presumably with Vienna’s growing number
of amateur musicians in mind. The flute was one of the most popular
This concerto is one
of Hoffmeister’s best-known works and one of the few that are still played.
It was written in 1799 and cast in three movements which was the convention
at the time. It’s scored for a modest orchestra of two oboes, two horns and
strings. In those days, the symphony orchestra was only just beginning to
emerge. There were strings of course and sometimes a couple of horns or a
pair of flutes or oboes, but nothing like the standard woodwind and brass
sections that are common today. Composers simply wrote for whatever
instruments a particular orchestra happened to have.
features an advanced student of the Escuela de Música Mozarteum in
Caracas. Fabián Orozco gives an accomplished account of this joyful
concerto which reflects the classical ideals of contrast, well-structured
melodies, transparent textures and a sense of light elegance. The lyrical
slow movement is an absolute delight.
The music of many
lesser-known composers can be found on YouTube but listening to this
concerto, I can’t help wondering how many hundreds of other forgotten voices
are still waiting to be rediscovered.